Let All That You Do Be Done in Love
Angels walk amongst us. Not the winged kind with halos and white robes, nor the chubby spooky baby kind that comes out every Valentine’s day. There are real flesh and blood angels who walk through life just like you and I do. They don’t draw attention to themselves but when we meet them, we know it. They smile a lot, laugh a lot, and give everything of themselves without a hint of self-righteousness or expectations of getting something in return. They draw from a deep internal well and pour love into the world. I know they exist. My mother is an Angel.
It begins with her name: Marianita. It is a portmanteau combining her mother’s name (Mary) and her grandmother’s name (Anita) that channels both of their loving influences. When asked about her inspiration, without hesitation Mom says that her mother has been a source of strength. According to Mom, she “never uttered a sour word about another person.”. Even when she and her younger brother Michael, would get into trouble, Mary would express disappointment, but never yell. She was always generous with her time — putting others ahead of herself. Marianita was inspired by her mother’s commitment and selflessness; she did what it took to ensure her children and husband had a good life.
Mom took up that mantle as a young mother herself. She tells me, “When you were born, although you took forever to come out, I knew right away that I was going to be a good mother, that I was going to take care of you and your brother.”
Mom created a home for us that was filled with love and kindness. She welcomed each of our friends into the home as if they were her own children. Having friends at our house for dinners and sleepovers were a regular occurrence. Through her actions we learned the value of respect, kindness, justice, and seeing the best in others — even if they didn’t see it themselves.
Similar to how her mother stepped away from a professional career to settle down in her 30s and raise a family, Mom left behind a desire to be a teacher in order to commit herself fully to motherhood. Her best friend Gerri told me that Mom really enjoyed sports and that she wanted to become a gym teacher.
After discovering this I asked Mom if she had ever considered becoming a teacher herself. “Yes,” she quickly told me. She went on to explain that she had wanted to go to college to become a physical education teacher. The circumstances of the time and the dated mindset of her father didn’t allow for her to go.
One of the reasons Mom is able to love and give so completely, what makes her an Angel, is that she doesn’t yearn for the world to be different than it is. She meets the world just as it is and pours her heart and soul into it. She loves her parents unconditionally and understands the hard choices they had to make as first and second-generation immigrants. Mom knows they did the best they could for her and her brother and is grateful for the love they showed her.
Mom is also buoyed by her deep faith. Gerri says that Mom has always believed that God never gives you more than you can handle. With that understanding, she faces the world with the quiet confidence of an enlightened being. There is no circumstance so challenging that she can’t overcome with the strength of her faith and family to help her through. How she relentlessly musters that strength in the face of challenges is a mystery to me.
According to Gerri, Mom has demonstrated an endless capacity to give of herself since childhood. They met when they were 10 years old and have held a close bond ever since — regardless of the geographic distance between them. The joys they experienced together in those early years helped shape the women they became. They bonded over boys and The Beatles and shenanigans at parties, but at the core, there was a commitment to sharing joy with others. At Northport High school in the late ’60s, the district would open up the gym on Friday evenings for students to come in and play pick-up basketball, ping pong, and spin their favorite records. For the two girls, evenings at the “canteen” were about coming together to have fun with friends. Gerri remembers: “We took care of each other and made sure everyone was treated the way they wanted to be.”
For my wife and I, Mom’s love and support are instrumental in our ability to thrive as parents and professionals. When we were married, Mom and Dad took our young son, Dylan, for a week and devoted every minute to caring for and entertaining him. Trips to see museums, aquariums, fishing, and meet family filled his week. Mom never expressed concern about the responsibility. She came alive with the opportunity to build a relationship with her grandson and care for a young boy who was much better behaved than her own boys had been. When our twin daughters were born five years later, Mom took two full weeks off her work as a nurse in a nursing home, dropped everything in her own life, and moved in with us. She took over all the household responsibilities so that I could work and Jolene could focus on the newborns, Dylan, and recovery. Those were long, sleepless nights. We will forever be grateful for her support and her unconditional love.
Since I was a young man and started to appreciate how lucky I was to have such a caring, loving mother, I’ve not understood how she does it. It seemed like a mysterious superpower. Her caring is truly unconditional. She acknowledges the inspiration of her mom, different aunts, and teachers who impacted her in her youth. But what makes her an Angel is not that she can mirror the acts of kindness of her role models, but that she generates love and caring spontaneously from her own heart.
When I asked Gerri if Mom ever got burned out, she told me, “I’m sure there may have been one point where she wanted to shut down, but her thoughts of you and your brother and all the kids keep her joy alive.” The energy to love unconditionally comes from within her. As Mom and I wrapped up a conversation the other day, I asked her if she feels driven to help others. She replied, almost perplexed by the question, “It’s not a drive. It’s just what I do.” After a pause. “If I see a need, I try to help.”
Many of us experience joy when we achieve some success and things work out the way we hoped. Mom, as an Angel, has accessed something more. She has two reliable sources of joy. Like us, her own experiences when fortune smiles upon her. But also, and more importantly, the joy she experiences in interactions with others. Whether it was loving her challenging sons (sorry Mom), caring for the neighborhood kids, or hosting a Christmas party where she ensured that every child present got a gift from the costumed Santa; in each and every instance she gives and loves unconditionally. In her career as a nurse and her second act as a cafeteria lunch lady, she gives everyone she meets a warm smile and unconditioned positive regard. She experiences the joy in the giving of care and love to others. In an unfiltered way.
Like her mother had been for her, Mom is an inspiration to me and my family. She demonstrates the courage to meet the world just as it is and not ask anything more from it. Like an Angel, she pours love into the world because that’s who she is. There is no mystery to solve. No motives to understand. She is not driven to give and love out of obligation — she simply embodies the spirit of love. In the Bible, there is a verse that captures it perfectly, “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). Mom told me that she’s never had an aspiration to save the world, that’s not how she thinks about it. And now I am beginning to understand what she means. The world doesn’t need saving. It just needs love.